What sort of tradesperson do I call about a cracked ceiling?
November 15, 2018 5:28 PM   Subscribe

This crack has turned up in our ceiling. I don't think it's water damage. I think it's probably a combination of the ceiling originally being installed by dodgy DIYers who didn't know what they were doing (judging from the rest of the house), and extreme heat maybe causing warping. It is upstairs, a room that gets full sun in summer, and it easily gets past 40 C most days in there. What tradesperson do I need who will not only fix the problem, but maybe advise on whether there's a bigger underlying issue and what to do about it? This is in Australia.

Before you give suggestions on the heat issue (because that would be a very metafilter thing to do), please note that we keep the curtains closed during the day, we have air-conditioning (but we don't run it when we aren't home), there's a whirlybird on top of the roof, and when we are home if the aircon isn't on, we keep cross-ventilation in that room by opening doors/windows on both sides.

Despite that, I still think it's probably a heat problem. So we probably need advice about increasing ventilation in the roof space. But I don't know what kind of tradie that would be and if it would be the same person who would fix the ceiling.
posted by lollusc to Home & Garden (15 answers total)
I cannot tell what the ceiling is made of. Is this gypsum board? Considering that gyp board is used for fire rated assemblies, I doubt heat would affect it much directly. Heat related building movement, maybe, but you wouldn't cure that by repairing with the same stuff.
Is the board possibly soft where the crack is? Could indicate a moisture issue.
posted by rudd135 at 5:41 PM on November 15, 2018

Well, the answer to your question is that you need a plasterer. Or anyway that's who would do it over here in New England, but we're a bit odd in that our default wall and ceiling coverings are blueboard-and-veneer-plaster rather than drywall. But you need a plasterer or whatever your local equivalent is, and then a painter of course. Where I am, many plasterers also paint.

In terms of addressing the underlying issue that caused the crack, you're most likely looking at a carpenter. I really kind of doubt it's heat related though; assuming that your houses in Australia are made roughly the same way as ours here in the US (i.e. from wood) temperature fluctuations don't have much of an effect on building movement. Humidity is the overwhelming factor there, but my understanding is that things in the Land Down Under are mostly pretty dry most of the time? It doesn't look like water either, since there's no staining.

Possibly someone just did a shitty job when they put up that drywall and now it's sagged and cracked because it was never properly fastened. Possibly there is some structural deficiency in your home that is causing the ceiling joists to bend more than they should. If the former, a plasterer can diagnose and fix it. If the latter, you need a carpenter.

Or who knows, really. It's pretty hard to say from over here why that board is cracked. Can you get up in your attic and make sure that there's no evidence of (for instance) someone just stepping on that piece of drywall and cracking it that way? It's hard to say why it's cracked without looking in the attic. A carpenter could probably figure it out though.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:59 PM on November 15, 2018

That looks to be a fairly substantial crack, and I would personally be more comfortable getting into the attic above (if there is one) to see WTF is going on. If you can't get into the attic, consider hiring someone (drywall/carpenter type) to rebuild the entire ceiling, because that doesn't look like a run-of-the-mill crack to me, that looks more like "this ceiling is going to fall in".

(clarifying note: I mean the ceiling materials falling, not the house structure)
posted by aramaic at 6:13 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

A plasterer would be able to fix the cosmetic problem, a carpenter (chippy) (the building/construction type) would be able to talk to you about any structural issues that might need fixed.
posted by freethefeet at 6:25 PM on November 15, 2018

You need a plasterer. You may also need a carpenter, but start with the plasterer.

It may be that the crappy DIYers have done something like direct stick to your ceiling members without battens to deal with movement or something equally daft. Even if they can't fix it a plasterer will know enough to diagnose it and refer you to a carpenter.

Heat is no big issue for gypsum plaster (drywall for any Americans reading along), and it shouldn't be for the timber above either. But DIY of unknown quality makes most things possible.

Memail me if you are in Melbourne, I may have a plasterer for you.
posted by deadwax at 6:33 PM on November 15, 2018

FWIW, annual temperature variation in my bit of the world is about 56°C (a cold night in winter is 0°F, a hot day in summer is 100°F) and I've never heard of temperature fluctuations causing plaster cracking.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:37 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

A plasterer is definitely the place to start. The underlying cause could be related to the house settling, which can happen if it's been unusually dry.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:01 PM on November 15, 2018

I'd expect a flex crack to be straighter. That smooth, low amplitude sinusoid looks like a failure under tension crack to me.
posted by jamjam at 7:18 PM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Okay, cool. I'll start with a plasterer. It's definitely gyp board. Before the crack appeared, there had been no rain for months, so not likely to be moisture.

I was just concerned I'd get a plasterer who would do a cosmetic fix and hide some underlying issue. But if you think a plasterer will be able to give advice about whether there's a bigger problem, I'll start there.

There's no attic. There's a small space between the roof and the ceiling, but not one people can really fit into, and there's no access panel. You have to take roof tiles off to access. (And it's second story, so I'm not up for clambering around on the roof trying to do that myself).

posted by lollusc at 7:43 PM on November 15, 2018

That doesn't look like gyprock/plasterboard to me (an owner/builder of gyprocked houses), but it may just be the play of light. If you are quite sure it is, a plasterer/gyprocker can do a quick fix, but most cracks I have seen in gyprock are straight lines where the joints fail - that doesn't look like the failure of a join. Sure there is no access panel somewhere in the ceiling of that floor (it may be concealed in a cupboard or similar, or otherwise disguised)? If so climb up/stick your head there and have a look at that area, you should see any surface damage on the sheet. If some tradie in the past has stood on the gyprock, perhaps putting his foot through it, it may need re-screwing to the batten as well as patching the crack itself. And if there is any chance there is asbestos insulation up there, proceed with caution.
posted by GeeEmm at 12:45 AM on November 16, 2018

Response by poster: Really sure there is no access panel. We had people installing air conditioning in the roof space about two years ago and they complained a lot about the lack of access. Also that is the only room on the second story and it has no cupboards.

There is not enough room to stand in there so I don't think a tradie could have stood on it in the past. And it's been two years since any tradies have been here anyway.

I think it's gyprock? The rest of the house definitely is. And this part of the house is an extension from the 1980s so I don't know what else it would be likely to be in a building of that age in Sydney.

No asbestos. The house was inspected for that when we got the Aircon installed.
posted by lollusc at 2:19 AM on November 16, 2018

That smooth, low amplitude sinusoid looks like a failure under tension crack to me.

Me too. Is the section of ceiling between the crack and the corner sagging as much as it appears to in the photo, or is that just a lighting artifact? Also, is there any evidence of further cracking in the wall corners? If your locality has clay soils, your foundations might be shifting.
posted by flabdablet at 7:24 AM on November 16, 2018

Thanks for the update. Gyprocker can fix from the bottom without access, unless there is some disaster unfolding in the roof space (unlikely, though possible). have him(?) inspect the rest of the plasterwork, that might show up a wider problem and possibly point to a cause. Inspect the external and internal walls for movement, cracks in brickwork, opening at joins of sheets, corners etc. With a bit of luck it is a localised, one-off problem, but a good tradie can give you a better insight than we internet warriors! Good luck with it!!
posted by GeeEmm at 2:08 PM on November 16, 2018

A little late, given the many suggestions already provided, but you should consider what you expect when the first tradie shows up. We are all working from a photo, which is no substitute for an on-site inspection, but it seems pretty clear the ceiling is no longer attached to the battens (if there are any). A carpenter will want to make a big hole so that he can see what the structural problem might be, and he has to inevitably be followed by a plasterer who will cover over his work. So you will need two tradies anyway.
A plasterer will probably also make a decent hole, but with luck it might just require cutting out the offending section and re-attaching the new boards, so you will avoid Sydney's horrendous labor rates for at least one tradesman. Beware anyone who offers to simply plaster over the crack! It will reappear shortly---my guess, given Sydney's extreme humidity problems in the summer, within the year. So yes, start with a plasterer, but expect a fairly major job if the battens are missing or spaced too far apart.
posted by alonsoquijano at 6:03 PM on November 16, 2018

Don't be so quick to rule out moisture. You had AC installed 2 years ago you say? Cold ducts can sweat - the are cold and water condenses on them if the insulation has a gap or other fault.
Now I read there is high humidity in your area. What are the chances there is a duct right above the damaged area?
posted by rudd135 at 7:01 PM on November 16, 2018

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